The Alliance of American Football doesn’t have the glitzy name of wrestling master Vince McMahon’s reborn XFL, and it doesn’t have the grandeur of the United States Football League of the '80s. But this league actually has a chance to make it once it begins operation in 2019 because of one major factor.
No Donald Trump.
He’s off to bigger and better things now, like cozying up to the world’s dictators and hanging schoolyard nicknames on those who take issue with him. As president, he has little time for football outside of blasting the NFL and its players for kneeling during the anthem.
One may remember, though, that during his days of bankrupting casinos, stiffing contractors and sweeping minorities out of his buildings, he once owned the New Jersey Generals, our local entry in the USFL.
The league actually had a good thing going from 1983-85. It was a nice spring/summer league that kept football in the public eye as the NFL enjoyed its postseason slumber. It had some problems, like financial overextension thanks to big contracts for talent such as Heisman Trophy-winning running back (and General) Herschel Walker, quarterbacks Steve Young and Jim Kelly and defensive end Reggie White. That might have eventually sunk the 14-team league anyway, despite a respectable attendance of 24,341 per game in its final year. The Generals ranked third that year at 41,348.
But Trump definitely sent it down the tubes. Not content with whatever modest profit the Generals brought him, he convinced the majority of owners to play the 1986 season head-to-head against the NFL. And then he took on the league in a $567 million antitrust lawsuit, hoping the older league would absorb his and a few other USFL teams and double their value.
It never happened. The USFL won the suit and its treble damages. The NFL indeed had a monopoly on fall football, but the jury felt the USFL's own mismanagement was at the root of its problems. The court awarded the USFL $3.
You can't buy a medium chestnut praline chai tea latte at Starbucks for that.
A league that would have done quite well under the warm sun never took the field again, all because our future president wanted a back-door entry to the big time.
The AAF has a real shot of working. For one thing, there are no owners. No Trump, no Trump wannabes. The league will own all eight teams, thereby eliminating any financial chicanery from profit-minded businessmen.
For another, the AAF won’t compete directly with the NFL for talent. Where the USFL drafted NFL prospects such as Walker and even hired existing talent that included quarterback Doug Williams and running back Joe Cribbs, the AAF will cull talent from a pool of undrafted collegians and NFL roster cuts.
The season will begin a week after the Super Bowl, so no conflicts there. And if all goes according to plan, the games will last a short 2 1/2 hours since they will eliminate kickoffs and those annoying TV timeouts. The two-point conversion will replace extra-point placements, and they’ll cut the play clock down from 45 seconds to 30 to keep the action moving.
It won’t feature high-quality football. Attendance will likely fall on the modest side. But at a time when fantasy league withdrawal takes firm hold, the AAF could survive as a viable follow-up to the NFL. Plus, it may give fans a look at some future NFL talent, just like the USFL.
Only this time, no Trump to muck up a good thing.
That in itself gives the AAF a shot to succeed.